“I used to shop for UK Garage records in London as far back as 1999”, Birmingham’s DJ Big Mikee tells us. “On my way into London one time, I caught Pay As U Go on the radio and recorded it on a mini stereo I had in the back of my car – I took the recording into record shops in London and asked for tunes like that. I remember getting “Terrible” by Wiley as one of the first grime records I bought.”
For the majority of those outside the city, the story of Birmingham’s – and to a more general extent, the Midlands’ – close-knit relationship with grime music remains largely untold, aside from the occasional watershed moment: Devilman & Skepta’s mic clash on Lord Of The Mics Vol.2 and Sox & Kozzie’s clash on Lord Of The Mics Vol. 3 years later being the two most obvious. But why?
“In the early days, people outside of the Midlands would never really look at us but we’ve been doing grime for a long time – we just didn’t have the platforms back then”, explains Invasion’s Hitman. “It’s definitely more of a fully UK thing now”, he continues, “We all feel like we’ve contributed now, where as before it was mainly the London acts getting noticed.”
Thanks to crews like Invasion – who will perform alongside Kano and Ghetts at our next Boiler Room London session – and Stay Fresh, the crew with whom Preditah first earned his producer and DJ Stripes, as well as the growth of independent YouTube media channels like P110, the relationship between London and Birmingham has gradually started to shift.
Boasting its own bustling, underground scene – a mirror image to the scene in London in terms of size and scale by most accounts – the city places a large emphasis on community and through iconic figures like Big Mikee, whose experience, knowledge and dedication (particularly to his long-standing Silk City radio slot) have allowed Birmingham’s younger generation of artists and spitters to flourish. “The sound is different here”, he explains. “The club scene is probably more lively in London and there are events on a lot more frequently, but I think the pirate radio scene is more active in Birmingham.”
At the heart of it all, Invasion – a crew further united by the tragic death of brilliant young MC Depzman in 2013 – have never failed to impress. Hitman, who speaks with genuine pride and passion on the subject of his crew, believes that their success lies in both their energy and togetherness. “We’re trying to bring that older essence of grime back that we felt some of the newer stuff had lost and we try to bring that raw energy to everything we’re involved in”, he says. “Just having your people around you always helps too, because without team work our dreams won’t ever work.”
Big Mikee’s view of the crew also echoes Hitman’s sentiments. “From what I see, the mentality of Invasion is that they’re always in the studio and they’re always on the radio. They play on radio after every week and I’m constantly getting new music from them, week in, week out. It’s almost guaranteed that I’ll play an Invasion track on my show.”
Looking ahead to our session, Hitz is also keen to pay tribute to Ghetts and Kano, particularly after noting that Invasion opened for Ghetts in Birmingham on his Rebel With A Cause album tour. “They’ve always maintained a high level of work, whatever it is they’ve been doing at the time, and never listen to anyone: they just do their thing.”
While it’s natural to look for turning points, whether or not this represents another watershed moment for the Midlands feels almost irrelevant at this point. It’s that the geographical barriers that once divided the two scenes are no longer defining of those scenes: it might be a while before the two fully embrace one another, but there is plenty to suggest that the Midlands can play a vital part in the future of grime.
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